On-screen depictions of artificial intelligence like ‘Westworld’ complicate our understanding of the imago Dei.

Christians believe that people—unlike robots—are made in the image of God. But shows like Westworld makes us wonder: In whose image are robots made?

The answer seems to be “ourselves.” As research into artificial intelligence continues, we will continue on the path of making artificial intelligence (AI) in our image. But can Christian thought provide an alternative approach to how robots are made?

The original Westworld, which starred Yul Brynner as the Gunslinger, was a product of the 1970s—a time when an intelligent robot was still a far-off possibility. At the time, filmmakers and audiences treated these robots instrumentally; there was little sympathy for the robot dead.

Times, however, have changed. Christopher Orr, writing in The Atlantic, notes that there is a major philosophical shift in the newest version of Westworld: A shift from concern for the creators, made of flesh and blood, to concern for the created, made of steel and silicon.

As Orr points out, storytellers from books and film have wondered about intelligent robots for at least a century. What is changing now, though, Orr notes, is the perspective: The former instrumental view of artificial intelligence is being replaced with a much more personal view. Like the iPhone-esque tricorder first popularized by James T. Kirk in 1967, the intelligent robot—predicated on rapid advancement in AI—is no longer a figment of scientific imagination, but a developing reality poised to take center stage in our rapidly changing world. Indeed, just this month, the European Union began discussing the establishment of “electronic personhood” to ensure rights and responsibilities for the smartest AI.

Exactly what this implies …

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